When Jack-o'-Lantern Tricked the Devil and Became a Pumpkin

Real Estate Broker/Owner with Hamm Homes

Great information from Lise Howe on the devil and became a pumpkin.

Original content by Lise Howe DC AB15253

No matter what face you carve into your Halloween pumpkin, it will probably be called the same thing: a jack-o’-lantern. But how did spooky illuminated squash get that name? Turns out, the term we use to describe glowing pumpkins comes from Stingy Jack, the main character in a centuries-old Irish myth. 

Americans haven’t always carved pumpkins; it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that squash was used for holiday fun. About 200 years before, those celebrating the harvest season in Ireland were making their own lanterns from turnips, beets, and other root vegetables as a way to ward off Stingy Jack, a phantom who roamed the countryside around the harvest.

According to Irish lore, Stingy Jack (sometimes called Flakey Jack) was a swindler who took up drinking with the devil, though when the tab came due, he didn’t want to pay his share. After convincing the devil to turn into a coin, Jack trapped his drinking partner in his pocket, releasing him only with the agreement that Jack’s soul would stay free of the underworld. However, as in all folktales, there was a catch. At the end of his life, Jack’s trickster soul wasn’t accepted into heaven or hell, leaving him to wander the earth with naught but a coal (provided by the devil himself) inside a turnip-turned-lantern.  Jack's story was used as a cautionary tale, a morality tale, that Jack was a sul trapped between two worlds, and if you behaved like he did, you coculd end up like he did. 

According to Merriam-Webster, in 17th-century Britain it was common to call a man whose name you didn’t know “Jack.” A night watchman, for example, became known as “Jack-of-the-Lantern,” or jack-o’-lantern.

Irish immigrants brought the Stingy Jack story to America, though the name and practice of jack-o’-lantern carving took some time to catch on. It particularlypicked up following the Civil War, when a grief-struck nation became fascinated by spirits and ghost stories, and it’s a tradition that’s become a fixture of autumn in America ever since.

The concept of using a round fruit or vegetable to depict a human face goes back thousands of years in some northern European Celtic cultures. “It may even have had pre-Christian origins that evolved from the custom of head veneration, or potentially even represented war trophies taken from your foes,” says Nathan Mannion, senior curator for EPIC The Irish Emigration Museum, in Dublin. “It’s quite macabre, but it may have symbolized the severed heads of your enemies.”


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Lise Howe

Keller Williams Capital Properties

4646 40th St NW 

Washington DC 20016

240-401-5577 (24 hour direct)
Licensed in DC, MD, and VA
Associate Broker, GRI, ABR, CRS
The Lise Howe Group
Howe Real Estate Should Be!






Comments (6)

Dorie Dillard Austin TX
Coldwell Banker Realty ~ 512.750.6899 - Austin, TX
NW Austin ~ Canyon Creek and Spicewood/Balcones

Good evening Will,

What a great post to re-blog! I'm off to read and comment on Lise Howe's post!

Oct 31, 2023 04:18 PM
Ed Silva, 203-206-0754
Mapleridge Realty, CT 203-206-0754 - Waterbury, CT
Central CT Real Estate Broker Serving all equally

Well worthy of a re-blog.  I learn so much on ActiveRain and some of it is even related to real estate.

Oct 31, 2023 05:54 PM
Paul S. Henderson, REALTOR®, CRS
Fathom Realty Washington LLC - Tacoma, WA
South Puget Sound Washington Agent/Broker!

Thank you for sharing this Lise Howe post with us. I had no idea Will 🤔

Oct 31, 2023 09:08 PM
Kat Palmiotti
eXp Commercial, Referral Divison - Kalispell, MT
Helping your Montana dreams take root

What an interesting story! Thank you for reposting!

Nov 01, 2023 05:24 AM
Roy Kelley
Retired - Gaithersburg, MD

Thank you very much, Will, for sharing this interesting reblog selection.

Nov 01, 2023 06:39 AM
John Juarez
The Medford Real Estate Team - Fremont, CA

What a great story, Will. Thanks for taking the time to re-post it.

Nov 01, 2023 05:38 PM